-- David Aebischer
could have continued to live the good life in Switzerland, but the lure of the NHL has proven difficult to resist for the veteran goaltender.
The 33-year-old is in camp with the Winnipeg Jets
with no guarantee beyond an opportunity to earn his way back into an NHL organization.
"I came here hoping to play somewhere in North America. I'm happy to be here and have a chance to play in North America again. Right now I have a chance to come here and have a tryout and see what happens." -- David Aebischer
It has been 14 years since Aebischer has found himself in an NHL training camp without a contract, but he is willing to take his chances. Aebischer could find a spot in the Winnipeg organization in a depth role at the American League level, plus there are 29 other NHL organizations with eyes to open and impress this preseason.
"I think my expectations are doing well on the ice and then seeing what happens," Aebischer said after a solid scrimmage performance Sunday here at the MTS Centre. "I came here hoping to play somewhere in North America. I'm happy to be here and have a chance to play in North America again. Right now I have a chance to come here and have a tryout and see what happens."
After playing most of seven seasons in the NHL with the Avalanche, Canadiens and Coyotes, Aebischer spent the past four seasons with HC Lugano of the Swiss Nationalliga A. Last season, he went 12-24 with a 3.10 goals-against average in one of Europe's top domestic leagues. Aebischer explained that he had aimed in recent years to return to North America, but the terms of his Swiss contract limited his options.
Through two days of training camp, Aebischer has earned some attention in Winnipeg with his play.
"He has looked pretty good in the scrimmages, so I've been quite happy with him," Winnipeg coach Claude Noel
said. "A veteran guy, and he looks like he plays like a veteran guy."
Aebischer will be in a difficult spot to push aside Ondrej Pavelec
or Chris Mason
in the Winnipeg net. Goaltending at the NHL level is a strength for the Jets; however, the organization is young and somewhat unproven in that position at the minor-league level, and Aebischer has indicated a willingness to head to the Jets' American Hockey League affiliate, the St. John's IceCaps, if necessary. Earning a slot with St. John's would provide Aebischer with a strong opportunity to be Winnipeg's top option if an injury was to sideline Pavelec or Mason.
"I'm not sure," Noel replied when asked where Aebischer may fit in the Winnipeg goaltending picture. "That will play out a little bit, as well. I think David is going to be in a position where he may be playing for an opportunity if the door opens, if he gets an opportunity to go into that door and potentially stay in that door."
Aebischer is one of the top products to emerge from the Swiss hockey program and, as a backup to Patrick Roy
with the Colorado Avalanche
in 2001, became the first Swiss player to win a Stanley Cup. Aebischer also has represented Switzerland in Olympic and World Championship tournaments.
In 214 NHL games, he went 74-12-13, with 13 ties, a 2.52 GAA and .912 save percentage. He was the No. 1 goalie for the Avalanche in 2003-04, the season after Roy retired, and went 32-19 with nine ties in 62 games. He also posted a 2.09 GAA, .924 save percentage and four shutouts.
He was traded to Canadiens for Jose Theodore
during the 2005-06 season, where he split time with Cristobal Huet
. He signed with the Coyotes in the summer of 2007, and played just one game in Phoenix before being sent to AHL San Antonio. After that season, he went home to Switzerland.
"I'm ready to go to the minors for (an opportunity in North America)," Aebischer said. "I think what I did in Colorado I can do again."
Back in North America, Aebischer must contend again with the smaller North American ice surface, as well as a host of other changes to the game.
"The biggest difference is the no-touch icing and the (trapezoid behind the net)," Aebischer said of the transition back to the NHL game.
Noel had some advice for Aebischer, who seems a likely bet to earn some preseason playing time.
"If I was him, I would be playing for 30 teams, not only one," he said. "There's no question. That's what I would be doing. If you're any player, any time you get in a chance to play in a game, you expose yourself to everybody. Not only to your organization, but everybody else. There are a lot of people watching."